March, with its seasonal identity disorder-am I winter or spring?- is prime time for a cold or flu. You can wake up one morning feeling groovy and by the end of the day you are in the throes of the dreaded common cold, or worse. One’s appetite is often diminished to a large degree, so we intrinsically know that we should eat extra healthy in that small window of opportunity. And for many of us that means good old chicken soup.
Making a stock from scratch is a great thing indeed, and if you are lucky enough to have a few hours to do this you can really go to town, roasting bones, caramelizing the veg before a long simmer on the stove. And if you’re a fan of homemade soup, joylessly slurping down a can of the ersatz stuff when you’re under the mercurial weather is not much help at all. Cup o’ soup, and bouillon cubes, despite masterful marketing, are not much better. But if you (or better yet, a loved one) have an hour and a couple pieces of chicken in the freezer, it is totally easy to make an awesome chicken soup-stock and all- from scratch. Even if the chicken is frozen solid! At five p.m. it may be only a frozen pipe-dream, but by six it will be a gorgeous chicken soup for body and soul. And depending on your druthers and what you have on hand you can make it old-school, with noodles or rice and carrots, potatoes et al, or you can give it an Asian flair, adding garlic, chiles, ginger,scallions and maybe some bean sprouts or tofu to boot.
Here’s a simple how to: take your frozen pieces of chicken, could be breast or legs or both out of the freezer and unwrap. Recently I used two legs as I prefer legs for soup. No worries if they are frozen together or if you want to separate the drumsticks from the thighs, you can do that in about ten minutes. In a soup pot, cover the chicken with water, about 2 or 3 cups, and bring to a boil, then turn it down and let simmer for about five minutes. Have another pot with about 2 cups of cold water at the ready. After about five minutes of simmering, remove the chicken from the hot pot and put it in the cold pot. This will cool the chicken and allow you to cut and handle it. This will be boiled in a few minutes for half an hour or so, so don’t worry about having raw chicken in cold water.
Take out one leg and cut the drumstick from the thigh. It will still be mostly raw and partially frozen but easy to work with. Remove the skin and put it back in the cold pot. With a boning knife cut us much chicken from the bones as possible. Cut the meat to the size you want and drop it in the simmering pot. Repeat the process until you have boned both pieces and you have one pot with cut-up chicken on a low simmer (the soup pot) and another pot with the bones and skin, (the stock pot). Place the latter on the stove and bring to a boil, then let simmer.
At this point you can add aromatics like chopped onion, garlic, bay leaf, ginger or chili pepper and so forth to the soup pot. Make sure your hands, work surfaces, knives and cutting boards are cleaned with hot soapy water before cutting the veg and follow these basic rules to avoid the risk of cross-contamination. If you like celery, carrots and potatoes, chop them to your preferred size and add them as well. If you want your soup with rice, add about a third of a cup of long grain or brown rice .
Skim the stock pot as necessary, removing the brownish foam, and check for flavour as the stock reduces by about a third. The stock pot will continue to release the fats and break down the collagen from the joints thus enriching the stock. After about half an hour this is ready to be strained right into the soup pot. Discard the remaining solids.
Check your soup pot for flavor. Here you will likely want to add salt and pepper to taste, maybe a teaspoon of soy sauce. Quick cooking veg like bok choy or snap peas or bean sprouts should be added just before serving.That should do the trick.